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Recapping My Last 2 Years

By Ben Schmauss, Government Relations Director in Nevada

It has been an incredible 2 years working as the Gov. Relations Director in Nevada for the American Heart Association. I have worked with great people on issues that impact heart disease and stroke for adults and children. Some of those issues include the Statewide Wellness Policy (Passed Summer 2014), Statewide Stroke Registry (Passed Spring 2015) and the $1 increase to the Nevada Tobacco Tax. (Spring 2015)


Each of the public health victories listed above represents countless hours of thoughtful work from survivors, volunteers, staff, coalition members, elected officials and many more.  So why do we work so hard? Why do we have such challenging goals?  Life is Why!


Yes. Life is WHY!! Last week I was presenting CPR Kits to a school district in Rural Nevada and the Superintendent of the district said to me “you know those AED’s you all worked to get into our schools and buildings, last month one of my Vice Principals used one to save a life.”  The individual’s life that was saved represents more than just a person that was saved.  They are a living proof that the work we engage in has a Why. Every time they give a hug , help a friend or say I’m sorry is one time more than they would have been able had it not been for the work we have the privilege to be part of. 


As I celebrate my 2 year Anniversary as the Nevada Government Relations Director and 7th year working with American Heart Association I am grateful for the living proof that the work we do makes a difference. 


The accompanying picture is with Superintendent Dale Norton, Assemblyman James Oscarson and myself minutes after Superintendent Norton told me the story of the AED Save. The CPR kits in front of us represent the resources needed to train over 6,000 kids in hands only CPR in NYE County Nevada. 


This training will lead to lives being saved!

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ICYMI: CPR in Schools Introduced

In case you missed it, Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 1719 which will ensure high school students learn CPR before they graduate high school. AB 1719 holds the power to create a generation of lifesavers.


Sudden cardiac arrest is one of the most lethal public health threats in the United States. Nearly 326,000 people experience cardiac arrest outside the hospital each year, and sadly, only 10 percent survive. Effective bystander CPR provided immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival, but only 32 percent of cardiac arrest victims get CPR from a bystander.


“CPR is one of the most important life skills a person can have. I have been an Emergency Medical Technician for over 30 years and I have seen too many cases that could have turned out differently if a bystander had known how to administer CPR,” said Rodriguez. “By teaching CPR in high school, we are sending students into the world with an essential, life-saving skill. We have the ability to dramatically impact the rates of survival for sudden cardiac arrest and save countless lives.”


Under AB 1719, school districts would have the flexibility to teach Hands-Only CPR in any required class, such as P.E. or Health.


27 states and over 50% of public schools nationwide currently train over 1.5 million Students in Hands-on CPR skills during high school, but California is not one of them.  Knowing the skills needed to save a life should not depend on what state you live in or what school district you attend. 

If you’re interested in getting involved to support AB 1719, please contact Kula Koenig for more details. For more information on AB 1719, please visit here.

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Arizona Heart at the Capitol 2016 Recap

On Tuesday, January 26th over 50 You’re the Cure volunteers, survivors, and American Heart Association visited the Capitol in Phoenix to raise awareness about heart disease and advocate for a statewide policy to train high school students in Hands-On CPR prior to graduation. 


Thanks to our volunteers, Arizona’s Heart at the Capitol Day was a very successful event!  The day started with a brief issue recap and training in the morning followed by advocates heading over to the House and Senate building for office legislative meetings. 


This year we met directly with over 40 key decision makers to build support and momentum to pass House Bill 2801 and Senate Bill 1137 (best known as the CPR in Schools Bills).  HB 2801 and SB 1137 contain the same language, the only difference is that they originated in the House and Senate respectively.  HB 2801 has already passed out of the House Education Committee while SB 1137 has yet to have a hearing.


HB 2801 and SB 1137 are moving very quickly through the legislative process, so please remember to regularly visit the action center to stay up-to-date on legislative updates to support our CPR in Schools bills at critical moments. 


Please contact our local Government Relations Director, Nicole Olmstead or me, if you are interested in getting more involved or if you have any legislative questions.

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New York State Lobby Day on the State Budget was a great success!

American Heart Month was kicked off on February 1st by our advocates descending on the New York State Capitol to lobby state legislators in support of funding to make New York more heart-healthy. This year, we are supporting funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative and funding to implement the CPR in Schools requirement.

The morning began with a training session facilitated by Government Relations Directors Kristin Salvi and Martha Auster, recapping the budget issues and sharing tips on a successful lobby day visit. Participants then broke into regional teams to rehearse their pitch, and then everyone hit the Capitol. By the end of the day, we met with over 20 state legislators and staffers!  

The Upstate New York Team met with Assemblymembers Fahy, Steck, and Hunter as well as Senators Breslin, DeFrancisco and Funke.  The team from Westchester/Hudson Valley  met with Assemblymembers Otis and Lalor and Senators Lattimer and Serino.  The New York City team met with Assemblymembers Seawright and Rosenthal, and Senators Klein and Serrano.  Our leadership team met with Senator Kemp Hannon and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried who Chair the Health Committees as well as Chairmen of the Economic Development Committees Sen. Phil Boyle and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger. The day was rounded out by meetings with staff from Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. 

These meetings are where the magic can happen when a legislator or staff becomes a champion for our issues. This is when a well-prepared advocate can answer specific questions about how funding for a program will help constituents in a legislative district. In fact, the chief of staff for Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright reiterated for the New York City team how important it is for groups like the American Heart Association to bring their message to Albany ~ it really does make a difference!

Two Final Thoughts:

  • Please look for advocacy alerts and make your voice heard in support of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative and funding for CPR in Schools. Every letter, phone call and visit truly makes a significant impact on our campaign efforts! 
  • Initially we thought the favorite moment of the day was when the New York City Team was invited to the Assembly Rostrum, a position usually occupied by the Speaker!  But it ended up being at the very end of the day during a meeting with Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, when his chief of staff said an AED in a school gym saved her friend’s life when he collapsed during a workout. Our mission at work!

You all are LIFE SAVERS!!

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You're the Cure Advocates Go Red!

Go Red for Women is the American Heart Association’s campaign to raise awareness about women’s risk of cardiovascular disease and empower them to take control of their heart health.  It is a year-long campaign that culminates in February for Heart Month.  All of the markets within the Mid-Atlantic Affiliate celebrate with events throughout February and into the spring.

Advocacy work goes hand in hand with the Go Red For Women movement in many ways.  One way is our advocates work with their local government officials on proclamations that declare the first Friday in February as Wear Red Day.  In North Carolina, the town of Matthews, Huntersville, Cary, and Winston-Salem passed proclamations.  As did Spartanburg and Columbia in South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. 

The District of Columbia took their support of Wear Red Day to the next level with several local councilmembers taking to social media to express their office-wide support.   Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau of Ward 1, Jack Evans of Ward 2, and Charles Allen in Ward 6 sent out tweets to their followers of their offices dressed to the gills in their finest red. Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander emailed her constituents to urge them to be diligent in keeping their lives free of cardiovascular disease with helpful tips and facts. 

Another great example happened in Charlotte, North Carolina, when advocate Dr. Sandra Burke presented to the Mecklenburg County Board of Directors about heart health and continuing collaborative efforts to improve the health of the local community.  And here, the women of the Virginia General Assembly went red on 2/9 to bring awareness to heart disease.  

Go Red is a nationwide movement that unifies communities in prevention and education about the risk factors and warning signs of cardiovascular disease.  We are proud of the policies and changes you are influencing to make strides toward a world where we are free of heart disease and stroke.

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Meet Dr. Abinash Achrekar

Dr. Abinash Achrekar has been a volunteer for the American Heart Association for quite some time. He got involved because of his dedication to helping raise awareness around the prevention and treatment of heart disease. For the past three years he has served on the Albuquerque Executive board, and he currently serves as the board President.

In 2015, Dr. Achrekar and his wife dove a little deeper into their volunteer roles and decided to chair the heart ball, a heavy lift for any Volunteer. That summer, Dr. Achrekar and the board also spearheaded an effort to begin figuring out how New Mexico could be the 28th state to add CPR as a requirement for graduation from high school. He decided this was something that he was passionate enough about to try and move at a policy level, even though there had been some challenges around this issue for quite some time within the state of New Mexico. Dr. Achrekar has been involved in multiple meetings focused on CPR in schools at both the Albuquerque and state level, and has offered his expertise as a cardiologist to the effort for the past 9 months. He is excited and hopeful that 2016 will be the year that CPR becomes a graduation requirement in New Mexico for high school students, helping to prepare thousands of graduates with the knowledge and skills to save a life.

Dr. Achrekar has been committed to advocating for AHA because most cardiovascular disease is preventable, whether through policy, programs or best practices. He is committed to a New Mexico free of cardiovascular disease, and he truly believes that a collected well informed voice is the way to achieve that goal.

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Springfield to Train Students in Life Saving CPR

All sophomores in Springfield High Schools will be trained with the lifesaving skills of CPR after a policy was passed successfully by the School Committee on Thursday February 4, 2016.  More than 326,000 people experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital each year, and about 90 percent of those victims die, often because bystanders don’t know how to start CPR or are afraid they’ll do something wrong. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival.

Springfield Public Schools is the largest school district in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be recognized as a CPR SMART School. CPR training will be provided as a part of the school’s Health Education curriculum, which all students take as part of their core graduation requirements. As the second largest school district in the Commonwealth, over 1900 students will receive hands-only CPR training, which conforms to the core teaching objectives for lay provider training as outlined in AHA Guidelines for CPR and will include:

  • Instruction and an opportunity to practice the psychomotor skills related to CPR (hands on compression practice)
  • Awareness of the purpose of an AED, its ease and safety of use, and location in the school.

The American Heart Association would like to recognize many key school officials, Michelle Heim, Director of Wellness and Development for the Springfield Public Schools and Dr. Kate Fenton, Curriculum Director for Springfield Public Schools. The American Heart Association would like to also recognize Susan Canning, advocate and founder of Kev’s Foundation and Rhonda Hall, a Springfield teacher and an American Heart Association advocate who were both was instrumental in bringing the concept of CPR training to the school leaders.

“Sudden cardiac arrest could happen at any time, anywhere and to anyone. It could happen in school,” remarked Rhonda. “We know that thanks to Springfield School’s commitment to teaching their students the lifesaving skill of CPR before they graduate, they will put thousands of qualified lifesavers in our community, year after year.”

Superintendent of Schools Daniel Warwick credited teacher Rhonda Hall, Chief Instructional Officer Dr. Kate Fenton, the School Committee and the American Heart Association for their work with this project. He said the initiative is one that holds positive implications for not only students but also the community.  “This is a wonderful opportunity and I am thrilled we are able to provide it to our students,” said Warwick. “You simply cannot put a price on the inherent value of arming students with potentially life-saving skills. It will enrich each one them and strengthen us as a community.”

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Grace Firestone

Grace Firestone Delaware

Grace Firestone was given an incredible gift--a second chance at life. Just days after her high school graduation, her brother saved her life by performing CPR until EMTs arrived and what she’s done since is extraordinary. Grace understood that her story had the ability to inspire and worked with American Heart Association staff to convince decision-makers that teaching every student hands-only CPR was not only feasible, but necessary. Thanks to her dedication and a two-year effort, all Delaware students will now graduate with the skills to save a life.

In addition to her health advocacy work, Grace is preparing for Fall 2016 entry into medical school, serves on the patient advisory board of Christiana Care Health System and is captain of her club soccer team, a sport she wasn’t sure she could return to. For a woman barely in her 20s, Grace has already left a lifesaving legacy and her work is just beginning.

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Governor Cuomo's 2016 budget proposal doesn't do enough!

On January 13, Governor Cuomo laid out his 2016 agenda in a combined State of the State and budget address in Albany.  

While my colleague Martha and I sat in the Convention Center and anxiously waited to hear how Governor Cuomo would be supporting programs that protect New Yorkers from heart disease and stroke, we were disappointed to find out that there was nothing included in the executive budget that would aid healthy food access or CPR in Schools support.

The Governor and the state legislature share the responsibility for how New York organizes its budget. It is critical that the final budget include funding for health-related programs we know will save our state money by improving the health of all New Yorkers.

Help us tell Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to invest in the American Heart Association budget priorities!

Click here for more information about the New York Healthy Food and Healthy Communities fund.

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Your Advocacy Team is Hitting the Road in 2016!

Mark your calendars to join us in 2016!  The North Carolina AHA Government Relations Team: Betsy Vetter, Sarah Jacobson and Kim Chidester will be traveling across the state (from Asheville to Wilmington!) to offer 5 in-person Advocacy Training Sessions.

In these workshops, we will offer education on our 2016 policy issues, an advocacy coaching session with a fun twist, and training on how to interact with your lawmakers.

Choose the workshop(s) you’d like to attend:

[Triangle] February 9th, 2016 from 11:30am – 1:30pm at AHA Offices [3131 RDU Center Drive, Morrisville]
[Charlotte] February 10th, 2016 from 5pm – 7pm at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church [517 Baldwin Avenue, Charlotte]
[Asheville] March 24, 2016 from 5pm – 7pm at Mission Health, Biltmore Park [First floor Community Room, 310 Long Shoals Rd, Arden, 28704]
[Wilmington] April 13, 2016 from 11:30 to 1:30p: Location to be finalized

In these workshops, we will be offering an issues-training around the following policy initiatives:

  • Healthy Corner Store Initiative
  • Closing the Coverage Gap
  • Tobacco use prevention and cessation programs
  • Issue in the pipeline: Active Transportation

We hope that you will save the date that works the best for you to join us in person, and be sure to watch your email over the next few weeks for reminders about these trainings. If you would like to join, please RSVP to Kim Chidester.

Also, we will be offering another opportunity to engage alongside us as we meet directly with your lawmakers!  Please mark your calendar to join us on May 10 as we prepare for our 2016 NC Lobby Day!

See you soon, North Carolina!

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